Soapstone Prairie Natural Area on Monday, November 4, 2019. (Valerie Mosley, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Public health officials are investigating what may have been Colorado’s first human plague death in six years.

San Juan Basin Public Health was notified of the potential case in La Plata County on July 7, according to a news release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which is leading the investigation. 

CDPHE is conducting additional testing to confirm the diagnosis, the news release said. The department did not provide additional details about the death. 

Plague is most common in the western part of the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. La Plata County, in southwest Colorado, has seen the highest number of plague cases in the state, making up for nearly half of the cases from 2005 to 2020, CDPHE data shows. 

Last year, there were two reported cases of plague in humans in Colorado, after four years with none reported, according to state data.

Plague, a naturally occurring bacteria that can be transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, is often detected in rock squirrels, prairie dogs, wood rats and other species of ground squirrels, according to CDPHE.

Olivia Prentzel covers breaking news and a wide range of other important issues impacting Coloradans for The Colorado Sun, where she has been a staff writer since 2021. At The Sun, she has covered wildfires, criminal justice, the environment,...